We, the undersigned, strongly encourage the National Park Service to deny Forest City Enterprises’ request for permission to construct a skywalk between the recently opened Horseshoe Casino at Tower City and its parking garage.
Originally conceived by Cleveland development pioneers, the Van Sweringen brothers, the Tower City complex has been a center of commerce and a symbol of the city’s prosperity since the early 20th Century. Today, the building serves as a retail and transit hub. Earlier this year, Rock Gaming opened the Horseshoe Casino, repurposing the former Higbee Department store. Forest City Enterprises called Tower City “the city’s most illustrious landmark” after purchasing and renovating the complex in the 1980s.
When voters approved the casino in 2009, they did so with a promise that Rock Gaming would mesh their enterprise into the existing fabric of Downtown Cleveland. Yet earlier this year, the City of Cleveland ignored the opinions of downtown residents, urban planners, preservationists and architecture critics by demolishing the historic Columbia Building in favor of a valet center to serve the casino. Now the city -- with support from Downtown's representative, Councilman Joe Cimperman, Rock Gaming and Forest City Enterprises -- is threatening to deface a landmark building by sticking a skywalk into the side of Tower City. The Ohio Historical Preservation Office, and Councilmen Matt Zone and Zack Reed oppose the project.
Cimperman says reuse of Higbee is a good thing. We are not disputing that. What we are arguing is that creating a skywalk from scratch is not reuse. It’s desecration of a Cleveland landmark – our Empire State Building, so to speak -- that many believe could cause irreversible harm, including The Plain Dealer’s architectural critic, Steven Litt, who says it’s like “poking a straw in Mona Lisa’s nose.”
Beyond aesthetic issues, our concerns include harming downtown businesses and retarding the rejuvenation of Cleveland that has attracted thousands of new residents. There’s little doubt in our mind this skywalk will cause irreparable harm in attracting new residents, return migration and new businesses. Instead, the proposed skywalk will encourage visitors to patronize only the casino and ignore the surrounding neighborhood.
Jim Russell, a geographer who studies the relationship between migration and economic development, speaks to Downtown Cleveland’s worrisome path:
“Cleveland is going down the same road San Antonio did. In San Antonio, the downtown is for tourists. That's a shame. Catering to the tourists kept locals from enjoying downtown and that's led to some serious economic development problems. The core, from the built environment to the marketing campaigns, should serve regional locals and neighborhood residents. I don't like the path downtown Cleveland is on. Cleveland is making the same the mistake San Antonio made.”
Supporters say the skywalk is needed for Cleveland’s punishing winter months. Since when were Clevelanders afraid of the cold? In Cleveland, we start tailgating for Browns games at sunrise in December. The Horseshoe Casino parking garage at Ontario and Prospect is approximately 270 feet from the Prospect entrance of the casino. Despite the short distance, a shuttle currently runs casino-goers to and from the garage, 24 hours a day in 10-minute intervals. It seems Rock Gaming believes they need a year-round enclosed skywalk for a stroll across the street even though they have yet to experience business during the winter season.
Supporters say the skywalk will create jobs. Sure, a construction company might benefit. But this skywalk is a one-time project that can only potentially benefit Rock Gaming, which has already seen impressive profits. Gamblers across Ohio have wagered $1.3 billion since the first casino in Cleveland opened in May. Rock Gaming is doing just fine. Their greed does not come close to outweighing the irreversible harm the skywalk will have on Cleveland’s unique aesthetic and budding businesses.
Tower City outlasted Higbee, and will most likely outlive the casino. The city already has plans to redevelop Public Square and this skywalk will drastically alter that vision.
We must not mar our city’s greatest architectural treasure for an enterprise that might be gone within our grandchildren’s generation, but have an irreparable impact on the downtown landscape for decades to come.
Rock Gaming does not live downtown. They are a private business invested in their own success. A skywalk serves that motive. It does not mesh with the existing fabric of downtown, it does not support independent businesses, and it does not appeal to the young professionals who are giving the city center new life.
We urge the National Park Service to say NO to the skywalk.